By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — It took less than two quarters for the booing to return to Qwest Field in 2010.
But unlike last season, when things usually started out bad and ended worse for the Seahawks, this miserable beginning had a happy ending for the 67,044 who watched Seattle overcome an early deficit to beat San Francisco 31-6 Sunday afternoon in the regular-season opener for both NFL teams.
A victory, let alone one by a 25-point margin, seemed like the last thing in the Seahawks’ future early in their first game under head coach Pete Carroll. On the game’s initial play from scrimmage, Matt Hasselbeck was intercepted by 49ers cornerback Nate Clements, and on each of Seattle’s next two possessions, the offense went three-and-out, netting just 11 total yards. It was after the second three-and-out that Seahawks fans, no doubt feeling a bit of déjà vu, began to vocalize their anger.
“This was a very challenging day for us early on,” Carroll said. “We couldn’t get anything going on offense … We couldn’t have had a worse start other than had they run that (interception) back.”
But while the offense struggled early, the defense did all it could to keep Seattle in the game. Following the interception, San Francisco had to settle for a 23-yard field goal after cornerback Kelly Jennings — a guy so slender that his teammates dubbed him “Slim” — took down 217-pound running back Frank Gore with an open-field tackle on a third-and-goal pass.
The next time Seattle had the ball, quarterback Alex Smith led the 49ers from their own 10-yard line to Seattle’s 6, but he overthrew an open receiver on fourth-and-goal. Following yet another Seahawks three-and-out, San Francisco again drove inside the Seattle 10-yard line, and again had to settle for a field goal.
Seattle’s offense finally got going midway through the second quarter, taking the lead on a 1-yard run by Hasselbeck, their 34-year-old quarterback. Momentum then took a big swing in Seattle’s favor when Jordan Babineaux intercepted a Smith pass, giving Seattle the ball at the San Francisco 13-yard line. Hasselbeck connected with Deon Butler for the second-year receiver’s first NFL touchdown, giving Seattle a 14-6 halftime lead despite being outgained 158 yards to 82 and possessing the ball for just 7 minutes, 57 seconds.
“It was huge,” Hasselbeck said of the defense. “… A 6-nothing game is just a one touchdown deal, and then we got the touch, so now it’s 7-6 and we’re winning, and we come in at halftime 14-6, and that’s big. That’s huge. They had to be scratching their heads in their locker room, like, ‘How are we losing this game? We really shouldn’t be losing this game.’ The difference was just touchdowns vs. field goals.”
The defense came up big again to start the second half when cornerback Marcus Trufant intercepted Smith and returned the ball 32 yards for a touchdown. And the defense didn’t just get it done with big plays. Even more important than the defense’s ability to frustrate Smith was the way it shut down Gore. Gore, who has a history of big games against Seattle, including a 207-yard performance last season, was held to just 38 yards on 17 carries.
“Things worked out well against what we think is a very good running team,” Carroll said. “That’s where it always starts; it starts there.”
Hasselbeck, who finished 18-for-23 for 170 yards, connected with Deion Branch for a 3-yard touchdown to make it 28-6 in the third quarter, and Olindo Mare added a 35-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.
And while the game was hardly a perfect afternoon for the Seahawks — besides the poor start, they struggled to run the ball, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry — it was an impressive beginning to Carroll’s tenure in Seattle. Coming into the season, the 49ers looked like the team to beat in a flawed NFC West, but Seattle certainly stated its case with the lopsided victory.
“It’s a great team win,” said receiver Mike Williams, who led the Seahawks with 64 yards on four catches. “A lot of people counted us out. A lot of people didn’t give us a chance.”
After Sunday’s win, Seattle, which won just nine games over the past two seasons, will have to be taken seriously.
“Today, we are going to thank Pete Carroll and his staff,” 49ers coach Mike Singletary said. “They did an outstanding job. It was good medicine for us. We have to swallow it. Bitter. … Tell Pete Carroll thank you very much for kicking our tails.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com. For more Seahawks coverage, check out the Seahawks blog at heraldnet.com/seahawksblog.